OCD Obsessions and Compulsions

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Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder where the individual is compelled to carry out certain ritualistic behaviors in order to relieve their anxiety (WebMD, 2011). Failure to carry them out may cause extreme distress. There are literally hundreds of OCD obsessions/compulsions that vary among individuals.

List of OCD Obsessions and Compulsion

OCD Obsessions: Unreasonable thoughts and fears invade a person’s thinking process. These thoughts are typically unwanted and cause the individual distress (Understanding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, 2003).

  • Contamination: constantly worrying about germs, dirt, bodily fluids, or anything else that may result in contamination.
  • Sexual: having unwanted thoughts that are sexual in nature and extremely disturbing (i.e. rape, incest). A person may also obsess over their sexuality and fear that they may be or become a homosexual.
  • Hoarding: worrying about waste or throwing things away. The hoarder often feels that they may need these things one day, therefore they must keep it.
  • Perfectionism: wanting to have everything meet a certain standard of order or symmetry until a level of perfection is attained.
  • Religion: worrying about offending God, saying “bad” things, committing a sin and being punished for it, having evil thoughts, or dwelling on religious ideologies.

OCD Compulsions: Repetitive behaviors that the individual feels compelled to perform. Compulsions are the acting out of obsessions.

  • Cleaning/Washing: the need to wash one’s hands or other body part due to the fear of being contaminated. Excessive cleansing can cause injury such as cracked skin and bleeding. Other cleaning/washing compulsions include: cleaning the kitchen even when it has already been cleaned, vacuuming unnecessarily, excessive dusting, etc.
  • Sorting/Organizing: the need to have everything “just so” or in a particular way in an attempt to make things orderly and perfect. Some examples of this would be arranging the cans in one’s pantry so that all the labels are facing the same direction, the books on a shelf arranged in a certain way (i.e. big to small, by thickness).
  • Saving/Hoarding: the need to collect and retain material possessions to the point where it consumes a person’s life and home. In some cases, trash will be examined to ensure that nothing of “value” will be discarded. Most objects that are collected have no real value and are useless. Animals can also be hoarded and pose a serious threat to the health of the animals and the hoarder.
  • Checking/Counting: the need to check door locks, appliances, light switches, doing a task a certain number of times.
  • Repetitive Prayer: the need to recite prayers in an attempt to dispel “bad” thoughts.

Making Sense Of OCD

In order to understand OCD, we must first understand how obsessions and compulsions work together. It may be helpful to think of the obsessions as being an automobile and the compulsions being the gasoline. Without gasoline, the car will just sit in the driveway—going nowhere. But when the automobile is fueled, then it can go to its destination. In OCD, the destination is completing a task in an attempt to relieve anxiety.

The list of OCD obsessions and compulsions given above give an example of how some OCD obsessions/compulsions go hand in hand. Just like the automobile, the obsessions remain dormant unless the compulsion to act on the obsession takes place. There is a problem, however, with this analogy; an automobile will not mind just sitting there but a person with an obsession will be tormented unless they are able to act on their impulses.


Understanding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (2003). Obsessions. Retrieved January 17, 2011, from https://understanding_ocd.tripod.com/ocd_obsessions.html

WebMD (2011). Obsessive-compulsive disorder. Retrieved January 17, 2011, from https://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/guide/obsessive-compulsive-disorder